ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.
Now a recommendation from our series You Must Read This. Andrew Sean Greer is the author most recently of the novel "The Story of a Marriage." The book he recommends reminds him of his childhood, but it is very much a book for adults.
Mr. ANDREW SEAN GREER (Author, "The Story of a Marriage"): A few years ago, I was telling everyone I knew I wished I could get the same feeling about literature I had when I was young. Back then, reading great fiction never felt like work, it was a very private kind of joy.
A close friend, the writer Daniel Handler, told me, please calm down, and handed me "A High Wind in Jamaica" by Richard Hughes. It first came out in 1929, but "The New York Review of Books" had recently and beautifully republished this evil, little book.
During one snowy day, I read the whole book in one gulp. It was remarkable, tiny, crazy. I felt just like I did as a kid. To say it's a novel about children abducted by pirates is to make it seem like a children's book, which is completely wrong. Its theme is actually how heartless children are.
The story begins almost whimsically in Jamaica with five English children surviving a hurricane. Then later on, we enter Treasure Island territory when their ship, returning to Europe, is boarded by pirates.
Here's where it gets good, because the pirates and the children begin to switch places. At first the pirates are the brutal ones, drinking heavily and throwing people overboard, as pirates will. But the children have such a deformed sense of right and wrong that soon it's the pirates who are frightened of them.
Eventually, our heroine, little Emily, murders a man in cold blood, to the pirates' dismay. And when the children are at last rescued to England, our Emily - well, I wouldn't want to give it away, but she performs one final bit of cruelty as simply as throwing a tea party for her dolls.
Some books inspire one to read, and some inspire one to write. For selfish reasons, I'm always looking for the latter. I'm greedy for fresh storytelling, and that's why I return time and again to "A High Wind in Jamaica."
I'm like a thief visiting a rare diamond he dreams one day of stealing, and the passage I would most like to lift comes late in the book. Little Emily, ending her reign of terror, lies bed-bound on the rescue ship with a pet baby alligator on her chest. The two monsters stare into each others' eyes. To her delight, the tiny creature bites her, then crawls into her dress to fall asleep.
It is surprising, we are told, that she could stand it, as she did, without flinching. There's a chilling blank space below this sentence. Alligators, the narrator informs us, are utterly untamable. So, it seems, are children in this astounding little parable. Still savage, they simply vanish inside the adults they will become.
"A High Wind in Jamaica" by Richard Hughes is like those books you used to read under the covers with a flashlight, only infinitely more delicious and macabre.
SIEGEL: Andrew Sean Greer is the author of the novel "The Story of A Marriage." And you can find more You Must Read This recommendations at npr.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.